OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

August 6, 1998

Mr. Peter H. Weiner
Law Offices of Paul, Hastings,
Janofsky & Walker LLP
345 California Street
San Francisco, California 94104-2635

Dear Mr. Weiner:

This is in response to your letter of January 7, addressed to Ms. Emily Sheketoff, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), regarding the classification of 3M's Scotch-Brite surface conditioning wheels as polishing or buffing wheels rather than as abrasive grinding wheels. Your inquiry was forwarded to my office for response.

In your letter you indicated that 3M believes that it would be appropriate for OSHA to provide an interpretation to classify surface conditioning wheels as polishing or buffing wheels rather than abrasive grinding wheels. Abrasive wheels must be guarded in accordance with 29 CFR 1910.215. Section 1910.215 addresses the hazards of coming in contact with a rotating abrasive wheel and of being struck by abrasive wheel fragments. An abrasive wheel is defined in 1910.211(b)(14) as a cutting tool consisting of abrasive grains held together by organic or inorganic bonds. The hazard of inhaling particles during grinding, polishing, and buffing operations are covered under 1910.94(b). Polishing and buffing wheels are defined in 1910.94(b)(1)(xiii) as all power-driven rotatable wheels composed all or in part of textile fabrics, wood, felt, leather, paper, and may be coated with abrasives on the periphery of the wheel for purposes of polishing, buffing, and light grinding.

Scotch-Brite nonwoven surface conditioning wheels are used for surface conditioning, which is an operation that changes the surface of a work piece without removing or damaging the base material, not for cutting or bulk metal removal. Typical surface conditioning operations are light deburring, cleaning, finishing, polishing, and blending. The surface conditioning wheels are composed of nonwoven webs made of synthetic organic fibers, organic polymeric binders, and abrasive particles. Their low density and compressibility do not pose the same risk of injury posed by abrasive grinding wheels. 3M test data reveals that Scotch-Brite nonwoven abrasive products are physically equivalent to buffing and polishing products. Abrasive grinding wheels have high densities (greater than 2.0 g/ml), have low percent voids (less than 25 percent), and are very hard.

In contrast, buffing and polishing wheels have low densities (less than 1.0 g/ml), high percent voids (greater than 40 percent), and are soft. These products are light, soft, and relatively flexible. A review of the physical properties of Scotch-Brite nonwoven abrasive products shows that they have low densities (less than 1.0 g/ml), high percent voids (greater than 45 percent), and are soft.

We have reviewed the product information, the California abrasive wheel standards regulatory information, and the minutes of the meeting held in Washington, D.C., with 3M and OSHA representatives. We have also reviewed the May 22, 1998, letter from Dr. Thomas H. Service, a committee member for ANSI's B7.1 Safety code for the use, care, and protection of abrasive wheels, concerning nonwoven products. We have determined that 3M's Scotch-Brite surface conditioning wheels are not abrasive wheels and are polishing and buffing wheels. Therefore the guarding requirements of 1910.215 do not apply, and the requirements of 1910.94 do apply.

However, when feasible, the employer must protect employees from machine hazards associated with the surface conditioning wheels and other surface conditioning products, in accordance with 29 CFR 1910 Subpart 0 provisions. In addition, employees must use the appropriate personal protective equipment, in accordance with 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I provisions, when using the 3M Scotch-Brite surface conditioning products.

We appreciate your interest in occupational safety and health. If we can be of further assistance, please contact Wil Epps of my staff at (202) 219-8041.


John B. Miles
Directorate of Compliance Programs